When I first started cruising there was no greater nightmare than disembarkation. Rousted from your stateroom by 8 a.m., you usually wound up sitting in public lounges for an hour or two until the ship was cleared. When you finally made it to the customs shed, the ship's luggage was all jumbled together without organization or arrangement. Of course, the ships were much smaller then, and logistics have improved in the interim. But I was still highly skeptical when cruise director John Heald told us that we could wait in our cabins until disembarking, and that all 3,000-plus of us would be off the ship and on our way to the airport by 9:30 in the morning. He was right and I was surprised.
All ships nowadays use some sort of color-coded tags to avoid mob scenes and get passengers off the ship in a relatively civilized manner. However, Carnival has added a numbering system to the color coding to break it down even further. There are three colors: for those on Carnival Air/Sea, those flying out independently, and those who were staying in Rome for a post-cruise sojourn. The numbers refer to bus numbers, so "Blue/11" stands for Carnival Air/Sea passengers on bus number 11. In the customs terminal the baggage is separated similarly. In other words you simply look for a big sign reading "Blue/11," and under it are all of the bags going on that bus and that bus alone. Since each bus holds about 40 people, your bags will be in a group of only about 80 others -- easily doable.
So off we went from Civitavecchia to Rome's Da Vinci (Fiumicino) Airport, unaware that those of us on Delta were in for a two-hour wait in an unmoving check-in line, a 2.5-hour delay in flight departure, missed connections, glacially slow baggage delivery at JFK, etc., etc. By the time I arrived home on the West Coast more than 20 hours later, I’d had plenty of time to mull over the cruise.
Despite the fact I may have quibbles about some of the style and design choices for the ship's interior, I found this to be a rewarding cruise experience, and I found the makeup of my fellow passengers unexpected and enjoyable. I did not anticipate that such a large number of guests would be Carnival repeaters, since this itinerary is quite different in every respect to Carnival's bread and butter voyages in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera. However, the segments of Carnival's loyal customer base that were attracted to this voyage were those at the mature end of the age spectrum, and those with families, who gravitated to Carnival's excellent family friendly capabilities, while seeking to share with their children the experience of visiting the Continent.
And as I dragged myself up to my doorstep I had another thought: I wish the airlines could do as well moving people and baggage as do the cruise lines!